Things to know about the Awa Odori Festival
The Awa Odori Festival, or the Awa Dance Festival in English, is one of the most elaborate street celebrations in all of Japan.It involves a series of dances traditionally performed along the streets of Tokushima. It is most famous for the fun and wild “Fool’s Dance” which is one of the main highlights of the party. It is the largest dance festival in the country which involves hundreds of participating dancers and more than a million tourists every year. It is a three-day event delightfully choreographed with traditional music and dance from the ancient times of Japan.
History of the Festival
For those who are wondering, the word Awa is actually the old name of the Tokushima prefecture of Japan. It was used during the feudal period and the name lasted until the Meiji restoration of the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
This particular dance style is believed to have been derived from a Buddhist worship dance from the Kamakura period. At the time, it was known as the Kumi Odori and was a ritual held by Buddhist priests to pray for a good harvest. It is also believed that there is a strong influence from the Bon Odori, or the Festival of the Dead, which is a celebration for the spirits of ancestors.
It was only in the late 1500s when the Awa Odori was considered as a celebration of its own. At the time, a powerful lord held a celebration for the opening of the Tokushima Castle. It was elaborate with hundreds of dancing participants in beautiful costumes, with loud music ringing through the streets. It is believed that this was the first official Awa Odori celebration held in Tokushima. People have started to move about drunkenly, explaining the origins of the “Fool’s dance”.
During the Meiji restoration, the Awa Odori celebration shortly died down as the finances of the prefecture started to dwindle. However, in the late 1920s, the locals started to revitalize the event and turned it into one of the largest tourist attraction in Japan.
Time of celebration
This particular event is, usually, held between the 12th and 15th of August. What is interesting is that it is celebrated coincidingly with the Obon season of Japan in mid-August. Although there are not that many historical records to prove it, it would seem that the Awa Odori festival is a part of the Obon celebration in the country. It is known to be one of the largest summer dance festivals in the world.
The celebration is usually celebrated at a pre-set time. However, there may be some circumstances which may hinder the event from pushing through at the exact same date every year for the last 400 years. It is important to note that the dates may change without prior notice. It would depend on the situation of the area during the specific dates of August 12 to 15.
Admission fees to the Awa Odori Festival
Usually, there are reserved stage areas (or bleacher seats) along the streets during the celebrations. Since the place is highly populated during the festival, an elevated seat may be beneficial when watching the dancers perform their choreographies. These reserved stage areas may range from 900 yen to 2,500 yen depending on the location and time. These seats are usually reserved for only one person for a minimum of two hours. The tickets to these seats may be purchased from a variety of convenience stores all over the country, even outside of Tokushima.
Where is the Awa Odori Festival Celebrated
Awa Odori Tokyo: Awa Odori Koenji 2017
Unlike the ones in Shimokitazawa and Tokushima, the Awa Odori Koenji is held at the last weekend of August and only takes a total of two days to be celebrated. Also, the celebrations are held only during the night time from 5 PM until 8 PM. There are roughly ten thousand dancers participating in the Awa odori Koenji event attracting a million or so visitors and spectators. The event is also free of charge and there is no reserved stage seating as well. This celebration is known to be the second largest Awa Dance festival in Japan.
Awa Odori Paris 2015
Paris, France is one of the only places outside of Japan where the Awa Odori is held every year. It started out in 2015 as a means of introducing the Japanese culture to the French. Traditional musicians and dancers are brought to France for a truly classical performance. This is a great way to promote matsuri in different parts of the globe.
Awa Odori Shimokitazawa
The Awa Odori is not only held in the Tokushima prefecture of Japan. It is also held in other parts of the country, just like the Shimokitazawa district of Tokyo. There is also no specific date when the Awa Odori is held in the streets of Shimokitazawa but it is usually celebrated mid-August. Unlike the celebration in Tokushima, the event in Shimokitazawa is much smaller and quieter. This means that there are no reserved stages for seating during the parade. Participation in the festival is actually free of charge.
Tokushima Awa Odori 2017
The Tokushima Awa Odori is the original Awa dance festival in Japan. In fact, Awa was the feudal period name of the Tokushima prefecture of Japan. This is a three-day event held between the 12th and 15th of August every year where there are thousands of traditional dancers and musicians in traditional attire. This particular event is the largest in Tokushima and it is the largest Awa Odori celebration all over the world.
The Elements of Awa Odori in Japan
Usually, the dancers are accommodated by traditional music as they parade through the streets. However, there are certain times during their performance where they have a stationary dance choreography. It is during this time that they usually have songs with lyrics to them. The most interesting highlight of the performance is the Fool’s dance which is accommodated by a song whose lyrics go as “The dancers are fools, the watchers are fools; Both are fools alike so why not dance”. Other than the musical accommodation, there are also chants (with no particular meaning) being shouted as they parade the streets.
There are two types of dances being performed in the Awa Odori every year. The first kind is the Nagashi which is usually performed during the day and the Zomeki which is performed at night. Out of the two, the Zomeki is much livelier and frenzied. The Nagashi has the same level of energy but is less elaborate with the choreography.
The dance for children, women, and men are all different from each other. Usually, the children of any gender dance the men’s dance. The men’s dance involves low crouches in the knees with arms in full movements. The women’s dance is more restricted, perhaps due to the clothing they wear.
The dance is usually performed by a group of dancers or ren whose members can reach up to a dozen in every performance. There are also performances which require more dancers, acrobatics, somersaults, and the like. There are also individual performances like mimes and magic tricks.
The costume varies depending on the location. The men wear traditional kimono outfits which allow for easier movement. On the other hand, women are supposed to wear kimono with hats, umbrellas, and gettas. The costumes are often brightly colored since the Obon festival is a festive celebration for the dead.
The Awa Odori Museum
Since the Awa Odori is a celebration which is centuries old, it is only understandable that there is a small museum or hall to commemorate all that pertains to it. It is a facility that exhibits different kinds of items that are important to the history of the Awa Odori. This includes photos from the earlier years of the Awa Odori. This place is home to almost all kinds of information related to the Awa Odori.
There are also exhibits of the costumes, instruments, and accessories which are important to the celebration of the Awa Odori. There is also a 3D theatre where visitors can watch recordings of the dance and the parade at any time of year. There is also a special group set aside to be able to perform the dance all year-round. This group of people, known as the Awa No Kaze, performs the dance complete with music and costume.
Opening Hours and Admission Fees
Entry to the museum costs 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for students. It is open between 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM on a daily basis. It is usually closed every second Wednesday of February, June, and October. They have reserved one day every season for maintenance. This particular museum is located in the Shinmachibashi district of the city of Tokushima. Guides are available for those who wish to have a tour of the museum in the English language since the majority of the exhibitions are in Japanese.
Travel Tips Awa Odori Celebration
Hotels and Accommodation
Since the Awa Odori festival is quite a huge event being held in Tokushima, it is without a doubt that finding a hotel and other forms of accommodation during the time would be difficult. This is why it is advised to secure hotel bookings, and other forms of accommodation, at least days or weeks in advance. Those who cannot book a hotel can stay at local accommodation in nearby Naruto and Takamatsu which takes about 40 minutes to an hour of travel time to the city center.
Must Eat in Tokushima
- Tokushima Ramen – This is one of the most popular local delicacies in all of Tokushima and is known to be served in more than 100 restaurants in the city. What makes this particular ramen special is that it has a special serving of pork bone soup. It has a very rich taste which his made even more special with the addition of pork belly and egg on top.
- Sudachi Citrus – A small fruit of incredible flavor, the Sudachi is a locally grown citrus plant in Tokushima. It is the only place in the country, and the world, where this particular plant grows. Many of the local delicacies of Tokushima is accented with the sweetness and sourness of this particular fruit.
- Tarai Udon Noodle – This particular dish is served with thick udon noodles served in simple flavored fish broth. It is also served with a dipping sauce which is also produced from local river fish. This is a popular snack in the area and is a definite must try.
Access to Tokushima
Since Tokushima is the place in the country where the largest Awa Odori celebration is held, it may be important to note how to get to the city during the festival. It is also important to note where exactly in the city the Awa Odori takes place. It might be a good thing to remember that the location of the celebration may change on a yearly basis.
The Tokushima prefecture can be accessed by bus, train, or plane depending on the point of origin of the traveler. Individuals traveling from Tokyo can take the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen from Shinjuku bound for Okayama. Then, once in Okayama, a transfer to the rapid rail bound for Takamatsu is needed. After which a limited express train can be taken bound for Tokushima station. This trip from Tokyo takes roughly seven hours of travel time and a total of 19,000 yen on train fees and transfers. A trip coming from Osaka will take much longer and much more expensive than this.
For those who are looking for a cheaper alternative, they can take the direct night bus bound for Tokushima from the Shinagawa bus terminal of Tokyo. Usually, the fare only costs about 10,000 yen, a value much lower than the train route. However, the travel time is much longer at 10 hours.
For those who are looking for the fastest alternative, they can take a direct plane ride to Tokushima airport from the Haneda airport. Usually, the cost will be around 36,000 yen but the travel time will only be a few hours.